Circus Of Horror - Circus Of Horror (Blu-ray) [Studiocanal/ Vintage Classic - 2020]
From the early 1960s Circus Of Horror is a mad-doctor melodrama meets relatively tame British horror film. It focuses on a disgraced plastic surgeon who comes into possession of a failing circus, that he peoples with female performers he’s operated on. Here, as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics series- which focuses on the best in British cinema, is a 2020 Blu-Ray release of the film- featuring a few extras, and a nice bold & bright scan of the film.
Circus Of Horror Aka Phantom of the Circus appeared in the year 1960. It was directed by Edinburg-born Sidney Hayers- in total, he had sixty-nine credits to his name, but only twenty-one of these were feature lengths- as between the late ’70s to early 90s he directed a lot of US TV show episodes. His features went from the likes of witchcraft horror Nigh Of The Eagle (1962) Oliver Reed fronted adventure/ drama The Trap (1966), psychological thriller Deadly Strangers(1975), and prison escape action drama One Away(1976). Circus Of Horror is a competently enough filmed and cast film- which starts off with promise/ pace- though as it goes on it becomes a rather drab melodrama, which is edged with moments of circus-based death.
The film opens with a flashback to 1947- where we see a damaged-faced woman screaming in a bedroom, and a dramatic car crash where Dr. Rossiter (Anton Diffring) staggers out of a car, his face is burnt. We find out he is somewhat of a wanted man due to his not always by-the-book plastic surgery work. He flees to France, where he comes across a failing circus that is run by glum eastern European man Vanet- played by a wig-wearing Donald Pleasence. His daughter has a badly scared face- so the Dr promises to fix her face, with the payment being that he’s made a partner in the circus. Next, we shift forward ten or so years, and the Circus is very popular- but it’s surrounded by controversy, as performers seemed to be dying.
Diffring is a nice fit for the shifty/ devious plastic surgeon, and when the script gives him chance he has some great moments. The supporting cast is largely serviceable if at times a little bland. Sadly Pleasence doesn’t have a huge part. The circus footage, as you’d hope/expect is fairly often- taking in high wire, knife throwing, and clown action. When the deaths occur they ok, if rather bloodless- we have a gorilla attack, knife-throwing neck impalement, dropping from a rope death, and a few others. After the initial flurry of activity- the film rather starts to coasts along as bland melodrama, following the lives of the Circus staff. Yes, we do have the deaths/ murder mystery side of things, but again this is somewhat bland as it’s been investigated in a rather dull and uninspired manner. I wanted to like Circus Of Horror more than I did, as its plot/ set-up sounded most promising, and the titles great- sadly it doesn’t really live up to its promise.
Moving onto this Blu Ray, and the print is very bold and bright- really bringing to life the circus colour/ flare. We get a few extras first off, we get a nineteen-minute interview with genre expert/ author Kim Newman- and as always we get an informative & entertaining presentation from Mr Newman. He starts off by showing his copy of the film's novelisation, and comments on the film's garish poster artwork. He touches on other circus horror films, and circus film in general from the same period. He talks about the films mad doctor lead & how he got into being cast in Horror films. He discusses some of the supporting cast, the director's other work, and of course his thoughts on Circus of Horror in general. Next, we get an on-screen appreciation of the film by broadcaster/ author Stuart Maconie, which runs just over the twenty-six-minute mark. Plus, a behind-the-scenes gallery, and an original trailer.
So, in finishing, I’m afraid to say I was rather underwhelmed by Circus of Horror - but that doesn’t take away from the good scan, and worthy extras offered up here…. So, and I’d say if the idea of Circus-based melodrama, with light horror/ mystery elements in place, then who knows it may click with you better. The Vintage Classics series has recently reached a hundred films, with some true and great classic taking in- to find out more about the series drop into the series websiteRoger Batty